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Seeing Beauty, Sensing Race in Transnational Indonesia

L. Ayu Saraswati

Publication Year: 2013

In Indonesia, light skin color has been desirable throughout recorded history. Seeing Beauty, Sensing Race explores Indonesia’s changing beauty ideals and traces them to a number of influences: first to ninth-century India and some of the oldest surviving Indonesian literary works; then, a thousand years later, to the impact of Dutch colonialism and the wartime occupation of Japan; and finally, in the post-colonial period, to the popularity of American culture. The book shows how the transnational circulation of people, images, and ideas have shaped and shifted discourses and hierarchies of race, gender, skin color, and beauty in Indonesia. The author employs “affect” theories and feminist cultural studies as a lens through which to analyze a vast range of materials, including the Old Javanese epic poem Ramayana, archival materials, magazine advertisements, commercial products, and numerous interviews with Indonesian women.

The book offers a rich repertoire of analytical and theoretical tools that allow readers to rethink issues of race and gender in a global context and understand how feelings and emotions--Western constructs as well as Indian, Javanese, and Indonesian notions such as rasa and malu—contribute to and are constitutive of transnational and gendered processes of racialization. Saraswati argues that it is how emotions come to be attached to certain objects and how they circulate that shape the “emotionscape” of white beauty in Indonesia. Her ground-breaking work is a nuanced theoretical exploration of the ways in which representations of beauty and the emotions they embody travel geographically and help shape attitudes and beliefs toward race and gender in a transnational world.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press

Series: Southeast Asia: Politics, Meaning, and Memory

Title Page, Series Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-xii

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Introduction: Seeing Beauty, Sensing Race in Transnational Indonesia

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pp. 1-14

In Indonesia, light skin has been the desirable color for as long as we can document. As this book will make clear, in some of the oldest surviving Indonesian literature, such as the epic poem Ramayana, adapted in the late ninth century from its Indian origin, light-skinned women were the dominant beauty norm of the time. In both the Indian and Indonesian versions...

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1. Rasa, Race, Ramayana: Sensing and Censoring the History of Color in Precolonial Java

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pp. 15-35

History affects us. Historical narratives of colonialism and slavery may provoke our anger; tales of freedom and independence can awaken our courage and hope. One may wonder, however, if and how affect affects history. Indeed, when we make visible the underlying emotions that linger in history and shape how history is constructed, how and will the past be understood...

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2. Rooting and Routing Whiteness in Colonial Indonesia: From Dutch to Japanese Whiteness

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pp. 36-59

Beauty may come in different shapes, but apparently not in different shades. At least this is what images of beauty that circulated in early- to midt-wentieth- century Indonesia would seem to suggest. If during the precolonial era the brightness of the moon functioned as an objective correlative for beauty, in early- to mid-twentieth-century Indonesia what appeared on the pages of women’s...

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3. Indonesian White Beauty: Spatializing Race and Racializing Spatial Tropes

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pp. 60-82

“Where are you from?” a fellow scholar politely asked me. A bit of small talk seemed appropriate: we were shoving our belongings into the lockers of KITLV library in Leiden, the Netherlands. It was the summer of 2006. I was then a graduate student doing research for my dissertation. “Well, I live in Canada, but I go to school in the United States; this summer, I am staying with...

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4. Cosmopolitan Whiteness: The Effects and Affects of Skin-Whitening Advertisements in a Transnational Women’s Magazine

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pp. 83-107

In the June 2006 edition of the Indonesian version of the magazine Cosmopolitan (hereafter referred to as Cosmo), Estée Lauder’s “Cyber White” ad appeared on the inside front-cover spread of the magazine. In the following issue of the Indonesian Cosmo (July 2006) Kosé’s Sekkisei whitening ad with the slogan “Skin of Innocence” appeared as the front-cover gatefold. Interestingly, in the late...

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5. Malu: Coloring Shame and Shaming the Color of Beauty

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pp. 108-128

In the prior chapter, I examined advertisements for skin-whitening products in the Indonesian Cosmo. The analysis brings to light the transnational meanings of whiteness in the early twenty-first century. But what of the products themselves? And what are we to make of their popularity? In Indonesia, skin-whitening products are ranked highest among all revenue-generating products in...

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Conclusion Shades of Emotions in a Transnational Context

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pp. 129-136

As geographer Yi-Fu Tuan articulates, “to strengthen our sense of self the past needs to be rescued and made accessible. Various devices exist to shore up the crumbling landscapes of the past” (1977, 187). This book thus asks that as we construct a transnational history of race, gender, and skin color that we make “emotions” one of these devices. This is because what one remembers...


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pp. 137-142


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pp. 143-162


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pp. 163-173

About the Author, Further Reading, Production Notes, Back Cover

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pp. 188-194

E-ISBN-13: 9780824837877
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824836641

Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: Southeast Asia: Politics, Meaning, and Memory